The Last of The Romantics
With Pirlo and Alonso recently retiring from the game, however, we look at the Regista and the last of the romantics who can pick up the baton.
There’s an enduring fondness and romance associated with the ‘regista’ in modern football. Maybe it’s due to the players that most recently occupied the position; classy and elegant players like Pep Guardiola, Andrea Pirlo, and Xabi Alonso or perhaps it can be attributed to the fact that in a sport where physical attributes are taking precedence over technical ability, there’s still space for artists on the pitch.
The word Regista comes from the Italian term which means orchestrator or conductor. In football, it’s the title given to the playmaker who sits just in front of the defense and controls the game.
The playmaker was always the primary attraction in football, the artist who would weave his magic around the pitch and leave fans gasping with astonishment at the sheer artistry on display. But as opposition teams began to close down playmakers and reduce the space they had to assert their influence, managers resorted to keeping the playmakers further behind where they had more time on the ball and greater control of the game.
At the turn of the century, teams playing with a regista started finding success on the pitch.
Italy won World Cup 2006 using a regista (Pirlo), Spain won Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 using a regista (Xavi) and both Italy and Spain reached the final of Euro 2012 using the regista. Furthermore, between 2007 and 2012, 5 out of the 6 Champions League winners used a regista with Manchester United’s Scholes somewhat filling that role.
A regista is not a box to box midfielder nor a hard-nosed tackler, instead, he will look to control the game using his vision and passing range. While a regista usually sits deep and is a fine reader of the game, he is not expected to do the dirty defensive work and usually has a combative midfield partner by his side. Think of Gattuso next to Pirlo, Khedira next to Xabi and Busquets next to Xavi.
There is a tendency of playmaking midfielders drifting into the regista role as they grow older as their lack of pace is not so exposed in this position. Registas need a good positioning sense, passing range and should be a great reader of the game, attributes that usually come with experience and age.
Andrea Pirlo was the poster boy for the regista. The former AC Milan midfielder was allowed to leave the San Siro at the age of 32 for free as a spent force. However, Juventus Juventus coach Conte signed Pirlo and built the entire team around him as the regista and reaped spectacular success with Juventus winning 7 scudetti in a row as well as reaching two Champions League finals.
Xabi Alonso was the player who actually brought on the regista revolution to modern football, coincidently against Pirlo’s Milan during that epic Champions League final where he inspired Liverpool to a famous comeback. Xabi then went on to play pivotal roles for Madrid and at Bayern where he retired having won three bundesliga’s in a row.
With the retirement of these two stalwarts of the position, there’s a gap for the new regista poster boy. With teams playing with more pace and pressing a lot more than usual, coaches have shifted focus to midfielders with more agility and strength than plain technical wizardry and specialist midfielders are slowly dying out.
However, that hasn’t sounded the death knell just yet with midfielders with that hint of magic in their boots finding methods to keep the art alive. Michael Carrick was expected to grow into the role for United and England until injury cut his career short. Cesc Fabregas has been revitalized this season for Chelsea playing a similar role to what Pirlo played at Juventus after falling out of favor with Conte last season. In dreamy Paris, Veratti is still drawing plaudits for his regista role despite all the media focus on a certain tricky Brazilian.